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President Masisi and the ‘audacity of hope’

LAWRENCE OOKEDITSE
THE STALLION

A key criticism of President Masisi has been that apart from reversing former President Khama administration decisions, he offers nothing else. This is misplaced sentiment- I would rather accept argument that his roadmap and achievements so far are not as well articulated or packaged as they should be.

But this is not out of want for effort or strategy. A great strategy is in place- it hinges on a liberal approach to both security and economics but with a premise for a strong, efficient social security system. With these come investor and consumer confidence. When investors are confident they invest and create jobs; when consumer spending increases the economy experiences growth and jobs are created.

The fuel for this strategy is a clear emphasis on giving people hope, and confidence in their government and country. Where there is hope, one is less likely to be reckless even if today may not be a particularly great day. After all, they have hope and a belief that the following day or the day after would turn out better.  Such is the impact of renewed hope and confidence.

Hope. Just a word? I do not think so. “I have always believed that hope is that stubborn thing inside us that insists, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that something better awaits us so long as we have the courage to keep reaching, to keep working, to keep fighting,” Barack Obama, himself a purveyor of hope has previously written. This nation right now needs that stubborn believe in that things can and will be better.

This does not mean sitting and doing nothing. We have to work, we to each do our part. The facilitator function of government needs to be forth coming. And out of it all comes confidence. To get working though, there are structural issues that we must take care of. These range from domestic policy and legislative matters to our standing internationally.

Such hope and confidence should not only be on the economy- it should also be in terms of politics. Those that argue that President Masisi is busy fighting intra-party battles and forgetting the economy are wrong- or at the very least do not have a thorough appreciation of both how the politics and the economy works.

For one, if there is uncertainty in terms of the political future of the Republic many an investor will shun to plough in their investment. Even domestic investors may hold on to whatever money they have out of fear that the environment offers no guarantees that their investment will be allowed to nestle and nurture. You want to put your money when you understand the philosophy of those in governance and when you know that there will be political stability.

It is therefore reasonable that he fight and win the political battle. How do you convince anyone to do business under your administration when there is daily news of a likelihood of you being removed from your seat? It is a difficult job. Critics also fail to understand that President Masisi is a politician. He is in power as a consequence of politics and he’ll stay in power on basis of the political dynamics. It is therefore only reasonable that he stays seized with matter of politics; and campaign hard to maintain his seat and give a chance to his ideas.

To implement his ideas on the economy and other sectors, he needs to have peace of mind in knowing that his tenure as a political man is secure. It would be ill strategy to pretend that all one has to do is focus on job creation and fighting corruption in order to secure their seat. Yes, that is one of the things we know he regards highly, but he must first survive if he is to see his ideas take shape.

Back to the economy. If you study any serious economy, you’d realize capital markets provide financing for businesses to fund their growth to facilitate both innovation and job creation. In turn, the capital markets depend largely confidence from investors and consumers. Those trading in issuing and trading equity or debt securities require certainty that their investments will be protected. Such investments may only be protected where you have the rule of law as an important aspect of governance.

Constant statements on the importance of the rule of law, consultations to preserve democratic ethos, a crusade against corruption among other confidence building initiatives are actually contributing to the macroeconomic fundamentals that we crave such as job creation, industrialization and growth. Most recent is also news of our signing up to the African Peer Review Mechanism. We are signing more up to international instruments and this gives investors’ confidence that we are not but just another rogue or pariah state.

This builds confidence and with it comes investment and jobs; at the very least, this prepares the ground for investment. If an administration is not able to engender confidence, the markets suffer and when the capital markets suffer so do job seekers. There is no running away from it. Consumer confidence is also a function of the political, and hope. Consumers’ outlook towards the economy and their own personal financial situations tend to either be optimistic or pessimistic.

Yet their confidence is an important factor that determines the willingness of consumers to spend, borrow and save. A high level of consumer confidence usually leads to a higher propensity to consume. We need consumers to be update about the future if they are to spend their money. We need them to spend their money to create jobs and grow the economy.

Most recently, we have seen salary increments for civil servants that will effect over two financial years- this gives confidence to consumers that their purchasing power will improve; and with it comes heightened expenditure and possible positive impacts on the economy. When people say ‘he is busy with politics’ and not bread and butter issues I often worry as to their understanding of the economy.

When you make entry into the country for investors less stringent, less subject to arbitrariness at the whim of those doing security vetting, you are basically opening up the country to investment from outside. That is a real effort at helping the economy kick. Ask anyone at immigration and they’ll tell you it is no longer as hard as it was for serious investors to get visas.

And of course there is the ‘small matter of the holy waters’. Increasing the hours of trading for alcohol and entertainment vending can only lead to more revenue for pub operators as they now can sell till a little later. The scrupulous among these would hire more people to work shifts thus increasing numbers of those getting jobs.

This presidency provides renewed hope for those who were previously excluded. A natural consequence of a transition is that it may lead to flows of cash diverting to people who previously did not have as much money flowing to them. We do not have to like it but it is true that in the wake of a new administration there will also be new economic beneficiaries.

This is a form of redistribution of the resources of the country. A new crop comes in and the old crop, if proper investors, are able to invest the money they have amassed over the past decade to open up industries hence create jobs also since they can no longer depend on rent seeking from the state given their loss of privileges.

Many may say but hope is not anything tangible. It need not be tangible. There is a feel food factor around the country. There is a feeling that one of us is in power; and with it feelings of patriotic duty to do one’s best to deliver wherever they are. This is what we need in the Presidency- a person who will make others feel good and want to improve their own circumstances.

There is real progress in the country towards jobs and economic growth. Perhaps what ought to happen is for the Presidency to communicate achievements without being shy; to also ensure that there is accurate and up-to-date data that can inform trends on job creation every month or even two. This would improve perception of ‘nothing being’ done to create jobs for instance. This being as it may be, we should not forget the importance of the ‘audacity of hope’. 

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DIS Parley Committee selection disingenuous 

25th November 2020

Intelligence and Security Service Act, which is a law that establishes the Directorate of Intelligence and Security Service (DIS), provides for establishment of a Parliamentary Committee. Recently, the President announced nine names of Members of Parliament he had appointed to the Committee.

This announcement was preceded by a meeting the President held with the Speaker and the Leader of Opposition. Following the announcement of Committee MPs by the President, the opposition, through its leader, made it clear that it will not participate in the Committee unless certain conditions that would ensure effective oversight are met. The opposition acted on the non-participation threat through resignation of its three MPs from the Committee.

The Act at Section 38 provides for the establishment of the Committee to examine the expenditure, administration and policy of the Directorate. The law provides that the Parliamentary Committee shall have the same powers and privileges set out under the National Assembly (Powers and Privileges) Act.

On composition, the Committee shall consist of nine members who shall not be members of Cabinet and its quorum shall be five members.  The MPs in the Committee elect a chairperson from among their number at their first meeting.

The Members of the Committee are appointed by the President after consultation with the Speaker of the National Assembly and Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly. It is the provision of the law that the Committee, relative to its size, reflect the numerical strengths of the political parties represented in the National Assembly.

The Act provides that that a member of the Committee holds office for the duration of the Parliament in which he or she is appointed.  The Committee is mandated to make an annual report on the discharge of their functions to the President and may at any time report to him or her on any matter relating to the discharge of those functions.

The Minister responsible for intelligence and security is obliged to lay before the National Assembly a copy of each annual report made by the Committee together with a statement as to whether any matter has been excluded from that copy in pursuance of the provision of the Act.

If it appears to the Minister, after consultation with the Parliamentary Committee, that the publication of any matter in a report would be prejudicial to the continued discharge of the functions of the Directorate, the Minister may exclude that matter from the copy of the report as laid before the National Assembly.

So, what are the specific demands of the Opposition and why are they not participating in the Committee? What should happen as a way forward? The Opposition demanded that there be a forensic audit of the Directorate. The DIS has never been audited since it was set up in 2008, more than a decade ago.

The institution has been a law unto itself for a longtime, feared by all oversight bodies. The Auditor General, who had no security of tenure, could not audit the DIS. The Directorate’s personnel, especially at a high level, have been implicated in corruption.  Some of its operatives are in courts of law defending corruption charges preferred against them. Some of the corruption cases which appeared in the media have not made it to the courts.

The DIS has been accused of non-accountability and unethical practices as well as of being a burden on the fiscus.  So, the Opposition demanded, from the President, a forensic audit for the purpose of cleaning up the DIS.  They demand a start from a clean slate.

The second demand by the Opposition is that the law be reviewed to ensure greater accountability of the DIS to Parliament. What are some of the issues that the opposition think should be reviewed? The contention is that the executive cannot appoint a Committee of Parliament to scrutinize an executive institution.

Already, it is argued, Parliament is less independent and it is dominated by the executive. It is contended that the Committee should be established by the Standing Orders and be appointed by a Select Committee of Parliament. There is also an argument that the Committee should report to Parliament and not to the President and that the Minister should not have any role in the Committee.

Democratic and Parliamentary oversight of the intelligence is relatively a new phenomenon across the World. Even developed democracies are still grappling with some of these issues. However, there are acceptable standards or what might be called international best practices which have evolved over the past two or so decades.

In the UK for instance, MPs of the Intelligence and Security Committee are appointed by the Houses of Parliament, having been nominated by the Prime Minister in consultation with the Leader of the Opposition. This is a good balancing exercise of involvement of both the executive and the legislature. Consultation is taken for granted in Botswana context in the sense that it has been reduced to just informing the Leader of Opposition without much regard to his or her ideas; they are never taken seriously.

Furthermore, the current Committee in the UK has four Members of the ruling party and five MPs from the opposition. It is a fairly balanced Committee in terms of Parliamentary representation. However, as said above, the President of Botswana appointed six ruling party MPs and three from the opposition.

The imbalance is preposterous and more pronounced with clear intentions of getting the executive way through the ruling party representatives in the Committee. The intention to avoid scrutiny is clear from the numbers of the ruling party MPs in the Committee.

There is also an international standard of removing sensitive parts which may harm national security from the report before it is tabled in the legislature. The previous and current reluctance of the executive arms to open up on Defence and Security matters emanate from this very reason of preserving and protecting national security.

But national security should be balanced with public interest and other democratic principles. The decision to expunge certain information which may be prejudicial to national security should not be an arbitrary and exclusive decision of the executive but a collective decision of a well fairly balanced Committee in consultation with the Speaker and the minister responsible.

There is no doubt that the DIS has been a rogue institution. The reluctance by the President to commit to democratic-parliamentary oversight reforms presupposes a lack of commitment to democratization. The President has no interest in seeing a reformed DIS with effective oversight of the agency.

He is insincere. This is because the President loathes the idea losing an iota of power and sharing it with any other democratic institution. He sees the agency as his power lever to sustain his stay in the high office. He thought he could sanitize himself with an ineffective DIS Committee that would dance to his tune.

The non-participation of the opposition MPs renders the Committee dysfunctional; it cannot function as this would be unlawful. Participation of the opposition is a legal requirement. Even if it can meet, it would lack legitimacy; it cannot be taken seriously. The President should therefore act on the oversight demands and reform the DIS if he is to be taken seriously.

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The Maccabean Uprising

25th November 2020
Jewish freedom fighters

 Jews drive away occupying power under the command of guerrilla leader Judas Maccabees but only just

Although it was the Desolation Sacrilege act, General Atiku, that officially sparked the Maccabean revolt, it in truth simply stoked the fires of an already simmering revolution. How so General?

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Atomic (CON)Fusion

25th November 2020

For years I have trained people about paradigm shifts – those light-bulb-switch-on moments – where there is a seismic change from the usual way of thinking about something to a newer, better way. 

I like to refer to them as ‘aha’ moments because of the sudden understanding of something which was previously incomprehensible. However,  the topic of today’s article is the complete antithesis of ‘aha’.  Though I’d love to tell you I’d had a ‘eureka ‘, ‘problem solved’ moment, I am faced with the complete opposite – an ‘oh-no’ moment or Lost Leader Syndrome.

No matter how well prepared or capable a leader is. they often find themselves facing perplexing events, confounding information, or puzzling situations. Confused by developments of which they can’t make sense and by challenges that they don’t know how to solve they become confused, sometimes lost and completely clueless about what to do.

I am told by Jentz and Murphy (JM) in ‘What leaders do when they don’t know what to do’ that this is normal, and that rapid change is making confusion a defining feature of management in the 21st century.  Now doesn’t that sound like the story of 2020 summed up in a single sentence?

The basic premise of their writing is that “confusion is not a weakness to be ashamed of but a regular and inevitable condition of leadership. By learning to embrace their confusion, managers are able to set in motion a constructive process for addressing baffling issues.

In fact, confusion turns out to be a fruitful environment in which the best managers thrive by using the instability around them to open up better lines of communication, test their old assumptions and values against changing realities, and develop more creative approaches to problem solving.”

The problem with this ideology however is that it doesn’t help my overwhelming feelings of fear and panic which is exacerbated by a tape playing on a loop in my head saying  ‘you’re supposed to know what to do, do something’. My angst is compounded by annoying motivational phrases also unhelpfully playing in my head like.

  • Nothing happens until something moves
  • The secret of getting ahead is getting started

and

  • Act or be acted upon

All these platitudes are urging me to pull something out of the bag, but I know that this is a trap. This need to forge ahead is nothing but a coping mechanism and disguise. Instead of owning the fact that I haven’t got a foggy about what to do, part of me worries that I’ll lose authority if I acknowledge that I can’t provide direction – I’m supposed to know the answers, I’m the MD!  This feeling of not being in control is common for managers in ‘oh no’ situations and as a result they often start reflexively and unilaterally attempting to impose quick fixes to restore equilibrium because, lets be honest, sometimes we find it hard to resist hiding our confusion.

To admit that I am lost in an “Oh, No!” moment opens the door not only to the fear of losing authority but also to a plethora of other troubling emotions and thoughts:  *Shame and loss of face: “You’ll look like a fool!” * Panic and loss of control: “You’ve let this get out of hand!” * Incompetence and incapacitation: “You don’t know what you’re doing!”

As if by saying “I’m at a loss here” is tantamount to declaring “I am not fit to lead.” Of course the real problem for me and any other leader is if they don’t admit when they are disoriented, it sends a signal to others in the organisation stating it’s not cool to be lost and that, by its very nature encourages them to hide.  What’s the saying about ‘a real man never asks for direction. ..so they end up driving around in circles’.

As managers we need to embrace the confusion, show vulnerability (remember that’s not a bad word) and accept that leadership is not about pretending to have all the answers but about having the courage to search with others to discover a solution.

JM point out that “being confused, however, does not mean being incapacitated.  Indeed, one of the most liberating truths of leadership is that confusion is not quicksand from which to escape but rather the potter’s clay of leadership – the very stuff with which managers can work.”

2020 has certainly been a year to remember and all indications are that the confusion which has characterised this year will still follow us into the New Year, thereby making confusion a defining characteristic of the new normal and how managers need to manage. Our competence as leaders will then surely be measured not only by ‘what I know’ but increasingly by ‘how I behave when I accept, I don’t know, lose my sense of direction and become confused.

.I guess the message for all organizational cultures going forward is that sticking with the belief that we need all-knowing, omni-competent executives will cost them dearly and send a message to managers that it is better to hide their confusion than to address it openly and constructively.

Take comfort in these wise words ‘Confusion is a word we have invented for an order not yet understood’!

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